“The self-mastery has to come first, because that mastery, that discipline, that practice allows us to ultimately be of better service.”
It’s been a long time coming, but Commander Divine and Greg Amundson talk about the origins of CrossFit, how Greg originally got involved and the lessons about leadership and life that Greg has learned along the way. Greg is known by his peers as the “Original Crossfit Firebreather” He describes his experience at the Kokoro camp and talks about his new book, “Firebreather Fitness.” The two friends have a far-reaching conversation about leadership, spirituality and self-mastery. Listen in to hear the valuable lessons that they are able to bring to you as well.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks, Mark Divine back with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. We do not take it for granted. We know you have a busy schedule so it’s super-cool that you’re able to tune in and listen and learn and grow. Before I introduce our guest today, let me remind you that if you give us a 5 star rating on iTunes, it really helps other people find you and eventually we’re going to be rated up there with Joe Rogan and Tim Ferris, which is one of my goals. Actually, it’s not really, but it’s kind of fun to say that.
Anyways, Greg Amundson is my guest today. Greg thanks so much. You are awesome. I love you brother.
Greg Amundson: Love you, brother, too.
Mark: Greg has become a really good friend of mine. Gosh, you know, it’s hard to even say enough good things about this guy. So he’s an author, he’s written 3 different books, and we’re going to talk about one of them in detail today. Greg is considered the original “firebreather” from the CrossFit community, and helping kind of martial in… I mean, a lot of what I experienced in CrossFit in my early days, Greg was there every step of the way. I think you were at every, or many of the certs that I attended. I think I’ve been to like, 10 different certs. You were at my first certification in Colorado. Just amazing experience and kind of a grounding rod for all of us in the CrossFit community. Greg is a martial artist. He runs a Krav Maga studio, so we have that connection as warriors. He is a military guy, having served in the army. He’s a law enforcement guy having served in the DEA and the Sherriff. Man, I mean, people say that I’ve done a lot, and I look at Greg and I’m like, “I don’t know how you do it all.”
So welcome. Thanks for joining me today. And I was laughing earlier, I was like, “I can’t believe we haven’t done a podcast. I’ve known you since 2007, and we haven’t done a podcast. Anyways, welcome. Thanks for coming down here.
We’re actually doing this in person, at SEALFIT headquarters, so if you actually want to see Greg and I talk, then go join SEALFIT online. Otherwise enjoy the podcast from the comfort of your car.
So Greg, welcome down here man. You’ve been making a lot of trips down here lately.
Greg: I have. This is my home away from home.
Mark: Seems like you’ve been on the road a lot.
Greg: I have.
Mark: Okay, so what’s going on in your life right now? I wanna get back to the beginning of who Greg is, but give us an update, like what’s going on in your life right now? Where are you focused?
Greg: Right now I’m focusing on teaching, ministry and getting the message out on the integrated methodology of my teaching.
Mark: Nice. I like that word, it sound familiar. Integration… (laughing)
Greg: I think it’s the only way. It’s the only way. We have to integrate.
Mark: Okay, let’s go… I met you back in 2007, like I said, at the Colorado police academy, I guess?
Greg: Correct. Colorado State Patrol.
Mark: Colorado State Patrol. Which where coach was there running a CrossFit cert, and that was back in the early days when Coach Glassman would go to all the certs, right? Which is kind of like me going to all my SEALFIT events. Eventually it’s not going to be possible.
Greg: It’s not sustainable.
Mark: It’s not a sustainable model. But there you were, and God you had a shaved head then, and you were a little bit puffier, but you look fitter now.
Greg: I think I’m fitter holistically now. I was focusing on my strength at that time which was essentially thrusters and pullups.
Mark: Thrusters and pullups, yeah. In fact, I recall that workout. It was a 15 minute am-rep, 10 thrusters, 10 pullups, as many rounds as possible. And they had those pullup bars that were close to the wall. (laughing) And Glassman says, “It’s okay to use your feet, Divine.”
That was an embarrassing moment. It was like, “Okay.”
Greg: I think, in the early days it was all about trial by fire. And it was all about, “Let’s do CrossFit and then explain what just happened.”
Mark: Figure out what happened later.
Greg: Yeah, but let’s do it first.
Mark: So you met Glassman at CrossFit Santa Cruz, which was number 1. It wasn’t an affiliate, it was his gym.
Greg: It wasn’t even “CrossFit Santa Cruz,” it was “CrossFit.”
Mark: Oh, no kidding. Just CrossFit.
Greg: Just CrossFit. It didn’t become CrossFit Santa Cruz until there were other CrossFit affiliates, and then Glassman’s like, “Well I guess we better designate that this is, in fact, an affiliate.” And it became CrossFit Santa Cruz.
Mark: Okay. Affiliate zero.
Greg: Affiliate zero. Of HQ. It was called HQ for many years.
Mark: Right, right. I remember that. So you just stumbled in there? How did you get in there?
Greg: Well, I was about a week out of the academy, police academy. And at that time the academy was old school training, where it was long, slow distance running couple days a week, and bodybuilding movements the other days. And our instructor somehow convinced me that that’s what it took to be a warrior and have warrior fitness, was that type of training.
And I bought into it, and I certainly looked fit, but then I got my ass handed to me within 5 days of being on my own as a new cop.
Mark: Really? You mean in the field?
Greg: Yeah. In the field. Parolee took me out. And there was a sensation of breathing through a straw and heart beating out of my chest, and no amount of willpower could get my body to apply force. I was lifeless. And I realized that I never had that feeling before. I’d never felt that way, like I was fighting for my life. So I just started to try to recreate that feeling in my own training.
And then I heard about this crazy gym in a little garage in a small, remote part of Santa Cruz, and they were doing–according to this source–crazy workouts, they’ll kill you, the coach is out of his mind. And it was circulating through the Jujitsu community, which I was practicing. And I thought, “Well, that sounds about what I need.” And at that time the phone number was in the phone book. And it was 464-2520. That’s the impact it had on me.
So I called the phone number and none other than Glassman answers the phone. It actually rang into the gym.
Mark: No kidding. And he was in there training someone.
Greg: It was in the gym, and he was training someone. Answered the phone and I said, “Hey, can I come workout?” And he was like, “Yeah, be here tomorrow morning at 6 AM.” So I rolled in the next morning, and it was just that first workout.
Mark: Do you remember that first WOD?
Greg: I do, absolutely. Not only do I remember the workout, I remember… it was as if it happened yesterday, the detail is so clear. Cause it’s one of those directional changes in my life. That day my life changed. In a very positive way.
I walked in the gym and there was two people in the gym–Glassman, and then sitting on a pair of parallette bars was a guy named Mike Weaver. Mike Weaver at the time was a black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu. He was one of the first Americans to win a Jujitsu competition in Brazil as a black belt. And legend has it that following that, he was escorted out of the country. Because Brazilians wanted to kill this guy. I mean, that’s their sport, and he dominated.
And one of his dominating factors was CrossFit. And he used to say, “If you’re doing Jujitsu and doing CrossFit, and your opponent is only doing Jujitsu, you’re cheating.” You just can’t beat the guy that’s doing both.
Yeah, he had cauliflower face. I mean, the guy was just fierce. And what Glassman said was interesting. He said, “You’re going to work out against this guy.” And that was the first time I’d… competition. What does that mean? How do you go against someone?
And the workout was a thousand meter row, 21 kettlebell swings with a 35 pound kettlebell, 12 pullups.
Mark: That’s it?
Greg: That’s it. And that was my reaction during the brief. I’m like, “That’s it?” I thought this was going to be hard-core. And another thing Glassman said, really funny, he said, “Hey kid, after you row, be careful walking down the stairs.” Because the rower was on the 2nd story, and there’s the handrail and stairs, and I’m thinking, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Careful walking downstairs?” My ego stirred and I’m like, “I should tell this guy I’m a cop. I should tell this guy I played water polo and let him know what a fierce athlete I am.”
Didn’t make a difference. Couple hundred meters into the row, I’m just gassed.
Mark: You had never rowed before?
Greg: And what’s so interesting is… never rowed before. Never seen a rower. Never seen a kettlebell. So all new to me. Never seen that type of gym. I’m used to gyms at that time in my life with mirrors, with cable crossover contraptions. And it was none of that. It was pristine, was my first observation was like, “Whoa, this place is, like, clean.” And then the energy itself was business. This was training. And there was a rope, there were rings, there were the parallette bars, kettlebells–never seen those–bumper plates–never seen those. So it was like a real gym. And honest to goodness where warriors train.
Mark: Where work happens.
Greg: Yeah, work happens here. And I was privy to that work. And that first workout annihilated me. Even a 35 pound kettlebell, which is now–that’s CrossFit teenage weight in competitions. It took me 3 sets to get through.
Mark: How many were they again?
Greg: 21 swings.
Mark: (laughing) 3 sets to get through 21?
Greg: 3 sets. I was just… I was after the row… and speaking of the row. I come off the rower and Glassman’s yelling, “Handrail. Handrail.” And I had both hands on the handrail. I mean, the row… that alone would have been the workout. That would have been plenty. But when I went through the whole session and then just crumbled on the floor, it hit me that what I just experienced, systemically, that’s what I felt on the street. It felt like for 10 or 12 minutes, however long that took, I was fighting for my life.
Greg: I never looked back. I looked at Glassman, I’m like, “Where do I sign up? How do I start?” And I never looked back. If I wasn’t on the job, I was at that gym with Coach Glassman. I followed him everywhere. Around the country. I mean, that’s how I met you. I literally would pack my bag on days off and wherever he was, I wanted to learn and follow him.
Mark: So you were part of the early seminar staff before they had a seminar staff.
Mark: And so you just helped him… did you get paid to do that?
Mark: You just kinda followed him around and helped out?
Greg: I didn’t get paid for the first… As long as I was in the profession of law enforcement, I never got paid, because I couldn’t have a secondary source of income. So I actually paid my own way, because I believed in this so much. I knew that if this program could save my life, it was just a matter of time before it saved a life of a brother or sister in law enforcement. And military. So my time was volunteered because I believed so much.
Mark: And to this day you teach CrossFit to the law enforcement, don’t you?
Greg: Correct. Yeah.
Mark: But now you get paid for that.
Greg: Now it’s my livelihood. It’s my source of income, is teaching and spreading this word.
Mark: So you went off and when you left there… I think you got, if I recall, you got hired by the DEA which took you away from Santa Cruz.
Greg: It did. That was in 2008.
Mark: Down into California and the Imperial Valley, right?
Mark: And you started “CrossFit Amundson.”
Greg: I did. Well, my wife did. I’ll give her a lot of credit. My wife at the time, Mallee, was really the genius and the impetus behind that.
Mark: Okay. And then when you left law enforcement… back to that, any big lessons from that period of your life? DEA, and the first CrossFit Amundson.
Greg: What I learned from my experience in law enforcement and DEA was that… well, I mean, there were many lessons learned. I think one of the big ones came to me tragically, and that is in the death of my mom. Because for the duration of my career, I knew what I loved to do. And what I loved to do was what I do now. I love to teach, I love to minister, I love to spread the word about the positive effect in our life that these practices hold. And I always thought, “This is what I’ll do when I retire. This is my exit strategy when I retire after 20 years in the military and law enforcement.”
And I always thought I had time, and then my mom passed away. And it woke me up and it made me realize that time is an illusion. And if this is what I feel that God is calling me to do, then I have a right and a duty to do it now. And within just a few weeks of my mom’s passing, I had completely changed my life.
Mark: That’s cool. Yeah, we would call that in the parlance of Unbeatable Mind, your wake-up moment. And then you woke up to your “why,” the “why” that is your deeper “why” and then you took action on it, which is cool. And you did, cause not a lot of people have the courage to take action that quickly.
Greg: Well, it took… it was actually what I would consider a divine intervention. There was a photograph that I’d never seen of my mom… cause my mom and dad had passed away at this time in my life. There was a photograph of my mom and dad that I’d never seen before. And they’re standing side-by-side, they’ve got a big smile on their face… This photograph is now in all my books. It had that much impact on me. And I was going back and forth. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d had my resignation letter written for both the military and DEA. I’d had that written for about a month. And I would go to work, and I’m like, “Today’s the day. I’m going to turn in this letter, and turn in my gear.” And I never had the courage to do it. I would always trip up.
And then one day I came home for lunch, and I’d had the intention of that morning, resigning. Didn’t make it. Came home for lunch, and during lunch UPS knocks on my door. And they give me a package. I open the package. It’s from a family friend named Jane Cook in Stockton. It’s a framed photograph of my mom and dad. This photograph that I’m alluding to in my book. And I’d never seen it before. And I open the package, and there they are looking at me, and the look on their face and the way that the image just transferred a message to me, and it basically said, “Go for it. We support you. The universe supports you. God supports you. You got this.”
And I didn’t eat lunch. I just got back in the car and drove to the office and said to my supervisor, “Sir, I just can’t keep doing this. I’ve gotta follow my heart.” And he’s like, “I knew it. You’re doing the right thing. Go out there and make it happen.”
Mark: Oh, cool.
Mark: Wow. So that’s a neat story. So your parents guided you from the grave.
Greg: Yeah, and I really believe that. And I feel like they’re still guiding me and supporting me to this very moment.
Mark: Yeah, that’s neat. I like that. That’s a nice image. Did you go back to Santa Cruz at that point, or just focus on…
Greg: I did. Yeah, I felt so compelled to be back in Santa Cruz. There was something energetically about being close to the ocean. My younger brothers were in that area as well. I was the oldest of 3, and once my parents passed away I felt that I had to become the head of the family. Keep our family together. Continue… some of my parent’s life work was left undone. And I felt I could continue to carry that torch, and that legacy.
Mark: Okay. And what was that work?
Greg: Well my dad was a chiropractor, yet towards the end of his life, he was doing a lot of stress reduction and stress management. He was teaching people essentially what we’re teaching now. This principle of integrating the mind, the body and the spirit and the effect that our mind and our words and our thoughts can have on our physical body and environment.
And then my mom was in ministry. She passed away in, of all places, Amman, Jordan. She was there in the Peace Corps. And so she was continuing her life purpose of spreading the gospel and doing good work for people.
And I just felt like, “I can continue in their giant footsteps.”
Mark: Right. So you launched CrossFit Amundson, up in Santa Cruz?
Greg: I did. So the agreement that Mallee and I had was once I left and we went separate ways, the agreement was I would just take my name.
Mark: I see. Yeah, you get the name. Did she keep the gym going, by the way?
Greg: She did. She kept the gym, and it’s now “CrossFit Imperial Valley,” which is an amazing gym. She’s done an amazing job. I think it’s one of the biggest gyms in the country.
Greg: Yeah. I think it’s amazing what she’s done, and I re-opened in Santa Cruz, “CrossFit Amundson.”
Mark: Got it. Yeah. And so there you have… let’s get into this concept of integration which is obviously something that Unbeatable Mind community knows a lot about, because it’s integrated training. You have a… your CrossFit gym, and you teach that in a somewhat integrated manner, but you also have your Krav Maga, and you have a yoga studio now. Satvana, right? And they’re all within like 10 or 20 paces of each other. I love that. You created this little eco-system of mind/body/spirit training using functional fitness and yoga and self-defense. And that’s awesome because that’s one of the things that I’ve been a proponent of for years, is that those are all one continuum of movement. Different ways to move, and there’s a little bit of east and west blending there, but the functional fitness of CrossFit provides the foundation for more somatic and more advanced movement, more advanced awareness, right? The ultimate expression of that being 2 bodies or more bodies moving in the dance of combat. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional.
Greg: Well I think that the hierarchy is we gain control over moving our body in space and time, which would be gymnastics. Then comes control over an external object, which would be weightlifting. Then the ultimate would be can we control another human being?
Mark: That’s moving in unpredictable ways.
Greg: Exactly. And simultaneously, that human being’s trying to impose their will and do the same onto us. It’s really hard.
Mark: Yeah, I agree with that. That is a brilliant hierarchy. And also you can say that the mental side kind of dovetails around that, because you develop a foundation of competence and confidence with CrossFit in developing control over your body and your mind. And then as you progress up to the controlling over the object, it requires a bit more focus, it’s a little bit scarier, there’s a little bit higher risk.
Greg: (laughing) The ego’s a little bit more in check.
Mark: Exactly. You have to develop more humility and more confidence and competence, which leads to more courage. And then we start to work with the 4 dimensional space with someone coming at you with a hammer or something.
Greg at Kokoro[18:49]
Mark: That’s pretty cool. So let’s talk about your… the second time, or the first time that we really trained deeply together, which was Kokoro camp. I had done some WODs with you, obviously the CrossFit certs and stuff. I don’t think I trained with you at your gym before 2012. But in 2012, you were invited to come to the Kokoro camp…
Greg: I think it was in 2010.
Mark: Was it 2010?
Greg: It was Kokoro 12, in 2010.
Mark: That’s right. 2010, okay. So about 7 years ago. And CrossFit journal with the backing of Rogue was going to do like a video series on Kokoro camp, and they were going to take some CrossFit notables through it. And then you were invited by Jimi Letchford. Tell us that story about how that came about.
Greg: (laughing) Well, I’ll tell it in a kind way, right?
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, exactly.
Greg: My good friend Jimi had invited me to come…
Mark: And he was the marketing director for CrossFit.
Greg: Marketing director for CrossFit. And he was part of the team that was bringing the social media, the CrossFit journal, bringing Rogue the Rogue athletes. Documenting this crucible…
Mark: Yeah. The other athlete… we had Tommy Hack, Rob Orlando, Kristan Clever, there were a few others….
Greg: Incredible group of men and women. Amazing to have those people here at the same time, the same place. Amazing.
Then you had attended one of my very first CrossFit goal setting seminars at Jimi’s gym. And we also had a discussion about Kokoro then. So it was definitely something I was interested in. And then when Jimi asked me, I was all in. Jimi’s one of my best friends, and he asks me to go with him, I’m definitely going to go. And what an experience. That was probably… I think about those defining moments where our life takes a change. Well meeting Coach Glassman, that’s one of those moments in my life that changed my life. Meeting you in that context, was a life changer. My life was never the same following that experience at Kokoro. It was amazing. Amazing.
Because I think sometimes what we need more than the lesson is the environment and the context for the lesson to be understood. And that’s what that provided for me.
Mark: Right. Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. A lot of times, life’s random lessons, which may not be as random as people think they are, they don’t provide that context. And they don’t provide anyone to help you interpret what’s happening. And that’s what we’ve set up with Kokoro, you know? This challenge is going to be every bit as challenging as one of those other life challenges that are going to inevitably happen. But here’s a context and a structure and some other people to share it with and some expert coaches to help you digest it.
Greg: You know, I’ve found that life has this funny way of continuing to provide us with the same lesson in increasing levels of volume and intensity until we figure it out.
Mark: Until you get it.
Greg: Until you get it. And that’s the amazing thing about an experience like Kokoro is that, you and your team provide these lessons, and the student will continue to get the lesson until they learn it. And it all happens in 50 hours.
Mark: In 50 hours, right. And, oh by the way, if you get the lesson at Kokoro, it’s not going to happen outside. Because you graduate, you move on to the next lesson. Doesn’t mean you won’t have other lessons, but whatever painful lesson was just….
Greg: Yeah. And then I think what you gain though, is you gain the ability to look at these experiences in our life through the lens of a learning opportunity. So it’s not like, “This is happening to me. This is happening for me.” We develop that little sliver of space between what’s happening, our thoughts and then our reaction to it.
Mark: Right. Nice.
Kokoro and Leadership[24:26]
Mark: So, Jimi invited you and then you found yourself on your own.
Greg: I found myself without Jimi
Mark: Without Jimi. After about 6 or 7 hours. God Bless you Jimi. Still waitin’ for you to come back. And then, what were some of the major insights that you had at Kokoro training, and your experiences.
Greg: Well I think what came up for me was I had an opportunity… you provided me with a leadership opportunity very early on in the camp. And one of the lessons I’d learned up to that point through the military, through law enforcement is that the primary role of the leader is to care for those under the leader’s care. The leader has that responsibility. So there’s this shift that takes place where when we bring our awareness off of ourselves and as you say, we take the awareness off of our own pity party, and we start to focus on other people, we think more about the care of others than about ourselves. That selfless service leadership model. Something phenomenal happens. We almost gain an additional source of strength. It’s hard to explain, yet what I found is that the more I cared about the success of others, the less I was concerned about the cold, the discomfort, not having eaten, the looming hours ahead of me. That was all insignificant. Because all I knew was, “I wanna make sure that in the next 20 hours, Tommy’s here, Rob’s here, Kristan’s here. And what’s interesting is I focused on them, they were focusing on me. So it’s this reciprocal relationship where we were able to work together, each of us caring for the other. And that’s one of the real beautiful lessons of any relationship, is when both people are intimately concerned about the care of the other, wow, amazing things are capable of happening.
Mark: Yeah, no, that speaks right to the core of Unbeatable Mind. Self-mastery. Which you have spent many years mastering your body/mind and everything. But we deploy that in service, so we have to bring our best game, that’s why we’re never done mastering ourselves. It’s just a journey. We do that though in service to our team, and to the mission. And then that becomes a complete system. Because that then, like you so eloquently said, that energy comes back to us. And it comes back in a multiple. And so we end up being uplifted, so even though we’re giving our energy to someone else, we gain 10 times or 20 times that energy.
Greg: And I think something came up…
Mark: That’s a huge lesson for people in Kokoro. That’s probably the number 1.
Greg: It is. Absolutely. Absolutely. It was for me. And it was in the after-action review, that was the theme that everyone realized, “Wow. The moment I started to think about other people, my life improved a little bit.” The quality of the experience improved.
Something came up at the recent UM retreat that it was really wonderful. There’s this balance that we strike in the warrior culture. Self-mastery, and the key is the word “mastery,” so it’s not self-mastered, it’s mastery.
Mark: I don’t think there is such a thing as self-mastered.
Greg: Yeah, there’s a daily discipline and practice that we have to engage in. And that is in balance with service. Yet what you said, I’m complete agreement with, the self-mastery has to come first, because that mastery, that discipline, that practice, allows us to ultimately be of better service.
Mark: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And that’s why they’re in that order in the Unbeatable Mind system. And a lot of people miss that in our society. Think it’s all about service. And even, you know, when it comes to like ministry. Or Peace Corps. Or, you know, there’s many, many examples of this… it’s important and valuable to serve, but if you can’t bring your whole self into that service, then it’s either not going to be authentic, or it’s going to be weak. You just won’t be able to serve boldly. And one of the things that I’ve been a little… I’ve just noticed, and I think it’s changing, but it’s a big problem in our society is… Philanthropy is big part of our economy, and there’s tax benefits and there’s a lot of marketing power in it. They even have words… call it, social… I don’t even know what the words are, but impact marketing. Okay. All of that is not service. And so people mistake it for service.
Greg: There’s a different intention.
Mark: Yeah, the intention is not pure. So it’s okay to serve and be part of a philanthropic organization or to support it but just be clear, that’s not what we’re talking about.
Mark: If you’re doing it for the tax write-off, it’s not the same thing. Service is, it seems to me, a natural offshoot of mastery, because the process of mastery involves our consciousness. So first we go through 3 dominant stages or primary stages of development as humans. First is egocentric. And there’s a good percentage of our world population that is stuck in that stage, right? And the 2nd is ethnocentric. And ethnocentric is where you’re able to take your eyes off yourself, but you’re only able to put them on your family, your tribe, your football team. You know what I’m saying?
And then the 3rd is world-centric. And so the warrior’s path is to strive diligently to get to world-centric. And I see this in the SEALs. The younger SEALs are egocentric, and then the more mature SEALs, the war fighters are ethnocentric. But the masters are world-centric. And so they appreciate their enemy. They respect the context of their culture and how they think and they realize there’s goodness in everyone, and it goes back to… I don’t know if you remember the story that I read… or the poem I read from–and I’ll shut up and get back and ask another question. I just went off on this riff. This Apache scout wrote a poem and I wish I had it with me. Maybe next time we do this podcast, I’ll read it on air. Aaah. And it’s called the “Scout’s Prayer.” And what he’s doing is asking forgiveness from the spirit that runs through all things, because he has to go into battle now.
Greg: Take up the lance.
Mark: Yeah, and he says, “I’m the last to pick up the lance, but now guide my hands, guide my heart, for I must pick up the lance. And help me have love for my enemy as I do for my…”
Greg: You read that during the Kokoro yoga teacher training. I love it.
Mark: Isn’t that neat? And so the self-mastered warrior is the last to pick up the weapon, the last one to fight. And will only do that if it’s absolutely necessary. That’s world-centric. That’s what we mean by world-centric warrior. And that comes from self-mastery, which leads to service to all humanity. It doesn’t mean you won’t fulfill your duty to protect and serve your people.
Greg: You know, something that comes up for me around this idea is that what we realize along that path, sooner or later, is that there’s a greater source of power than us.
Greg: So the ego wants to think, “I got this. I can fix this.” And we get to work using our worldly skills. What the master can do is sit in stillness and allow God or the universe to work on our behalf. So there’s battles being waged in the spiritual realm and the worldly realm. And I’d like to think that a master can just sit in stillness and allow things to manifest around them that allow their intentions to be fulfilled on the world. In a more powerful way than they could ever hope to achieve if they only used their limited worldly understanding.
That’s why the Bible says “Lean not on your own understanding.” Because it’s always going to be limited. Our body, our mind, no matter how well developed is always limited through the human condition. We tap into that greater source of power, and that’s when we can do all things.
Mark: I love that. I completely agree, and I think that when I talk about developing whole mind, so the 5 mountains, you have the physical, physical transcends to physiological, which gives us a little bit more control. And then that gives us more control over our brain, because brain’s an organ. Now that gets us into the mental development realm. So mental development, most people think is about developing your rational mind, decision making, thinking, judging… and so that’s part of it, but that’s not the whole of it.
Mark: And so the whole of it is to be able to tame that, to control that, to focus it and to be able to turn it on and off like a switch. And when we turn it off, then we’re able to get into the rest of our mind, which is going to be our perceiving mind, and the conduit to what you’re talking about. And so in that sense the warrior must develop his mind so that he can get out of his own way, and sit and receive and reflect and to visualize and to commune and to create. So, like you said, the win or the outcome is created in the whole mind. And I think that’s an important distinction, it’s not created in the rational mind. It can be thought about in the rational mind, but that will always be limited. It’s created in the whole mind through feeling, through intention, through a connection with spirit. And then, often, it requires action, but often it does not.
Greg: And when it requires action, it requires the right action. And that’s something that I think is so often misunderstood in the creative process is people are spending countless hours and there’s very little return on their investment.
Mark: Sure, but busy.
Greg: Busy, busy, busy. And we see this in the martial way, is the karate way is one strike. And that’s all that was needed. One strike. One intention. One action. And that one strike, that one action can create a symbolic effect through our entire life. It can create a rippling effect when that one input is correct. Less is more.
Mark: Less is more. Keep it simple.
Greg: Keep it simple. These are all themes that are known, yet knowing and abiding by them and practicing them is not the same thing.
Mark: Yeah, they’re very different. I agree.
Greg: You know something else that’s come up for me numerous times on the creative path is there’s a difference between focusing on what we desire and then how we’re going to achieve it. So in my practice, I focus and I visualize what I want, what I intend to create or co-create, yet I don’t really concern myself that much with how it’s going to happen.
Mark: Yeah, you let that unfold along the way.
Greg: Exactly. I let that unfold according to God’s plan. If I focus on how it’s going to be done I set it into a rigid framework. Well that’s limiting what could happen along the path of creation.
Mark: (laughing) I think I drive my staff a little bit nuts. Cause once you have a structure, and an in-structure… what I mean by in-structure is an organization… it starts to get a little bit more rigid, and there’s planning and processes and, you know… And I’m really fluid like you are, as an entrepreneur and creator. And I’m very willing to try something out with an 80% solution. Throw it out, see what sticks, and knowing that it’s not going to work the way I thought, but something’s going to survive.
Greg: Something will come from it.
Mark: And then we’ll move again, and then we’ll move again. Cause that’s how the SEAL moves from target to target to target. Failing their way forward to victory. And it looks like a soup sandwich along the way, and everyone can say… And when I used to hear people say, “Those SEALs, they’re all fucked up.” Right? And we would fuck up all the way to where we won. And everyone would be like, “How did you do it?” Cause we were such fuck ups along the way, and we were smiling and saying, “That’s awesome! Now I know how not to do it.”
Greg: Exactly. Beautiful. I love it.
Mark: Isn’t that awesome? And so… but it can be maddening for a team or an organization that isn’t in sync with that. So that’s like one of my challenges now is to take Unbeatable Mind to that level where we can teach, you know, a culture and even have a flexible system that is able to adapt really quickly and really rapidly and doesn’t expect perfection every step of the way.
And it’s easier to start something like that from scratch than it is to change an organization, you know what I mean?
Mark: Let’s talk about freedom. This is something that we were having a brief conversation about earlier, based upon an interview that I had this morning, and the guy asked me what motivated me, and that’s what just came up. Right off the bat. I said, “Freedom motivates me.” And for a lot of reasons. Freedom to move, freedom to think. I love this country because we have the ability to think what we want, and to believe what we want, and, for the most part, say what we want. We might get judged for it, but we have the freedom to do that. Have the freedom to make as much money as I want. I have freedom to go out and serve people and give my money away if I want to. I have the freedom to move across state borders and most international borders. And I feel like our spirits are driven toward freedom. What are your thoughts on this?
Greg: I completely agree. I think that the first step along that path to freedom is understanding where most of our freedom resides. Or our bondage. And that is with our thinking. And as we can elevate the quality of our thinking, and expand our thinking, the quality of our life will compliment that. So so often we hold ourselves in bondage. The goal of the practice is to break free from 39:24 those chains to elevate the quality of our thinking, to believe unconditionally in ourselves and the ability of others, to allow ourselves the freedom to think in new ways. To identify our life up to this moment, understand that while my life up to this exact moment is simply a reflection of the way I’ve been thinking up to this moment. Unless I’m satisfied with my life in this moment, I need to change my thinking, 39:57 because that’s the only way I can expect my life to change is my thinking, which is going to require freedom of new thought.
Mark: That’s the starting point, cause you could have a billion dollars and be a slave to really 40:08 flawed thinking and there’s a lot of billionaires who are really unhappy, really unhealthy and they’re stuck in these stories of bondage.
Greg: Exactly. These cycles. These habits. These conditioned ways of thinking. These grooves.
Mark: You know, what’s coming up to me… and I just bought the book again cause I lost my copy. I think I gave it away, but “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
Greg: A perfect example.
Mark: I’m going to read it again because Bob Schoultz said, “Hey, I’m reading it again.” Reminded me. There’s an example of someone who wasn’t free physically, because he was in a concentration camp. But he was free mentally, emotionally and spiritually because he had control over his thinking. No one could take that away from him. He was free to think the way he needed to think, and the way he chose to think was to help other people appreciate that.
Greg: Yeah, that book is really brilliant and needs to be read by all the UM listeners. It’s gotta be read. And what he says is that the Nazi captors could take away everything except his last human freedom. Which was his choice to think about the conditions of his life. That’s our last and first human freedom. So we’ve got to cultivate that freedom and use it to our advantage. We have a right to free thinking, and the only person that can either keep us in bondage or free us is ourselves. It’s so amazing.
Mark: That is amazing. I love that. So our daily work… The work… when I say people must do the work, the daily work is to move toward freedom so that we can continue to master ourselves. So that we can serve boldly. And underlying or part and parcel with that is to clarify what it is we’re meant for. Why we are here.
Greg: Yeah. It’s so important. So important.
Mark: And so there’s a lot there, but to break it down to that KISS principle, show up every day and do the work, with your purpose and one thing. And so it comes back down to waking-up and doing the work to cultivate your whole mind. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. And then that leads you further and further down the path until all these other things… when you’re ready for it, the teachers will appear, the concepts will be there for you. Open up to you. That’s really cool.
So, you’ve… what I love about like, our lives, there’s a lot of parallels. I’m writing a next version of Unbeatable Mind. And originally it was just going to be a rewrite, but as I’ve gotten into it, I’m realizing that there’s so much new information and new distinctions I have. I’m telling… the principles really haven’t changed, but they’re going to be told in whole new way, and I’m going to write it more for leaders, and people who are out there showing up in a big way. And it is a reflection of my stage of development as a human. And in 5 years there’ll be another version. And then another version.
And so you’ve got a new version of your thinking coming out in book form. And I love the title, because you were the original firebreather, and so you called it “Firebreather Fitness.” So awesome. And you’ve got it broken into body, mind and spirit, an integrated training program. So tell us about the plan, the book.
Greg: Yeah, so what I tried to do in the book was share the practices that I’ve learned from the great mentors in my life. From you, from my dad, from my mom, from Coach Glassman. To distill these lessons into integrated practice that can be followed on a daily basis. Because, just like you said, it’s about the daily work. The daily practice. Everything counts. Just like in CrossFit we say, “Every rep counts.” In the integrated practice, every repetition counts.
Mark: Every rep counts.
Greg: So Dan Brule would say, “Every breath counts.” You know, a master would say, “Every strike counts.” Every squat counts. Every moment of meditation counts. Every word counts. Every thought counts.
So what we’re trying to do as warriors, as firebreathers is to understand that everything in our life that’s a variable, we should have an influence on. Then we move a step further back and realize that well these variable exist in these 3 domains. Mind, body, spirit. Then we pull back a little bit further, and within the mind, the body and the spirit there are these disciplines and these practices we can do. And this book allows the reader to start from ground zero and work towards this self-mastery that we’re all desirous of.
Mark: Great. So let’s take one practice, like a beginners practice from each of the domains. Starting with the body.
Greg: You got it. I think, well, what I would recommend is actually starting with the mind. Starting with the mind section. Because that creates a rippling effect through the body. So we start with the mind, and this is something that you and I both teach as the morning ritual.
Something that has worked for me and worked for thousands of people that I coach and teach is this practice of “first words.”
Mark: Love it. You talked about that at the retreat.
Greg: It’s just a matter of being mindful of what’s the first thing we say every day. Because if I can become aware of my first word, that creates a rippling effect. And as I go through my day, chances are if I had an influence and awareness of my first word, I’ll have awareness and influence over every subsequent word that I speak.
What precedes the spoken word? Thought. So if I’m being mindful of my speech, I’m, by design, being mindful of my thinking. So it’s as simple as…
Mark: I love that. So first thought, and that’s exactly what I teach. Your first thought should be one of gratitude, positive and powerful and you know, not picking up your iPhone and checking your email.
Mark: I love that.
Greg: It’s self-fulfilling. It’s with positive expectancy. AS I teach in yoga it’s spoken or thought with light and love. That becomes our first action of the day. And then that would lead us to a movement practice.
Morning movement is for me yoga, and I definitely recommend a nice, gentle yoga asana session in the morning. What this practice of first words teaches though can transcend the movement practice. So as I go into CrossFit, because I’ve already disciplined myself to be aware of my thinking and my spoken word, I look at a repetition scheme of 21-15-9, and really all that breaks down into is 21 singles. So I have 21 opportunities in a set of 21 thrusters to do 21 mindful repetitions. So quality of movement, this idea of virtuosity, then radiates through my thinking, through my speech and through my movement. So my daily practice is about doing the common, uncommonly well. Both thinking, speaking and acting.
Mark: Which is integrity. When you’re aware of those 3, when they’re in alignment and when you’re seeking virtuosity in thought, word and deed. That’s true integrity. Or authentic integrity.
Practice the Basics[48:06]
Greg: Exactly. I share the story of Gichin Funakoshi at the UM Retreat… there’s another great story that I meant to share, same situation, he’s in his dojo, and he sees this white belt in the corner–and for new listeners, Gichin is the father of karate. He sees this white belt who’s just standing around idle. So he goes over to the white belt, because the other students are practicing kata.
Mark: Is this the founder of Shotokan?
Greg: Exactly. Exactly. He goes over and he says, “Why aren’t you practicing?” And the white belt says, “I’ve pretty much got this kata down. I’m waiting for the next one.”
Mark: That’s great.
Greg: And Gichin says, “Oh really. Okay, well, I’m going to go over here and practice some of my own.” And he goes over and practices the basic white belt kata. And so it’s this idea of always coming back to the basics. Because the basics… that’s the KISS principle. So we understand the basics and the nature of physicality, so what are the basics in the spiritual and the mental realm. Well, something that you teach is, “I got this. Hooyah.” “Lookin’ good, feelin’ good, oughta be in Hollywood.” I mean, that’s basic. That’s not really an eloquent mantra, but what it does is it reinforces our intention. It creates a blueprint in our mind and so that all of a sudden, that becomes the background music in our mind. All of a sudden, our natural way of speaking is with kindness, love… that becomes natural. No different than someone who learns the principle of deadlift, and understands why the deadlift works, they’ll never pick up an object again the same way. Any object they pick up will be with the mechanics of the deadlift. Once they understand in practice the deadlift.
Well it’s the same thing with our thinking and our speaking. If we practice long enough, that becomes the way that we exist and the way that we operate in the world. By practice.
Mark: By practice. I love that. And so what about spiritual practice? Any ideas there?
Greg: Meditation. I think that’s where meditation, stillness and silence are so important, and something that you and I have co-taught together is the physical practice is about working out. Value in that. We both see that.
Working in. I think what we both said at the UM Retreat, is that might be the 20x factor, because the more work in that we do, that’s the self-mastery. So the self-mastery might not be my CrossFit workout. That might actually be performance. But the ability to sit in stillness. The ability to meditate, the ability to contemplate, the ability to reflect, the ability to pray, to commune. That is the practice. That is working in.
Mark: Yeah. And here I would submit that the basic training is what most people think is meditation. Sitting in silence. Mindfulness. Even visualization, which is a concentration practice. But when we get to the mastery level, we carry that with us wherever we are, and so whether you’re moving in a CrossFit workout or in a conversation, you’re maintaining that state of mindful awareness, and/or shifting into concentration as you listen authentically. And so that becomes at a more advanced level the skill is to be silent in action. But it doesn’t mean that masters don’t go back and sit. To do the basic training. Just like the Navy SEAL would always come back to, you know, start their firearms training with a 25 yard static shoot, that was the basic training. And then crawl, walk, run from there. But you can’t leave the basics behind, because they’re perishable skills.
Greg: Yeah, it’s so nice, you know, there’s… in mastery, there’s stillness in action. There’s silence in action. So even in speech there’s the awareness of silence. Even in action there’s the awareness of stillness. There’s this awareness that everything arises and dissolves from that source. And we can carry that source with us wherever we’re going.
Mark: That’s kind of the eastern concept of yin and yang. The masculine and feminine. Action and stillness. It’s not a static thing. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m gonna go over here into the action world.” There is one interpretation of that. I prep to win in my mind, and then go to the battlefield and I perform. But the finer distinction is, while I’m prepping in my mind, there’s action. The visualization. Anything but the most advanced stage of meditation where you drop into the void and you’re communing with God, there’s action… and you could even say that that’s action in stillness. But then when you go out–I’m just basically restating what you said in other words–when you go out to the battlefield the warrior who’s mastered himself will find stillness so they can be the world-centric warrior who’s curating the thought process in real-time. And directing his mind and emotions and spirit at the right action. So that the results are refined and correct. It’s like your statement about right action. And that way, we stop being thugs in the world. We stop moving with a heavy foot. We tread much more lightly on the environment. We make decisions that are for the good of all humanity. That’s what the world-centric warrior’s all about, you know?
Mark: I think your book will help us get there, and I support it big time. I can’t wait to read it, thank you for my copy.
Greg: Thank you for writing the foreword.
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, and I wrote the foreword. I can’t wait to… It’s a beautiful book, man. Really well done.
Greg: Velopress did an amazing job. I’m so grateful to work with such an amazing publisher. They really, really did a beautiful job.
Mark: I see you got a fuel plan in here, you’ve got some workout plans… This is going to be terrific. You’ve got some yoga.
Mark: Inspired by Kokoro yoga.
Greg: Exactly. That is Kokoro yoga. That’s awesome. Well, I look forward to reading it. When is this due out?
Greg: That is out January 5th. So preorders are available now, and it ships on January 5th.
Mark: So you can order it on Amazon right now?
Greg: Correct. Yeah.
Mark: Very cool. Awesome, Greg.
Greg: Thank you, brother.
Mark: All right everyone, so… we have to do this more often. I can’t believe it took us so long. It’s terrific. Greg Amundson. Firebreather, warrior-athlete, warrior-leader, warrior-statesman, emerging warrior-monk. Thank you so much for coming down.
Check out “Firebreather Fitness.” Amazon and since Greg’s so busy teaching, training, transforming people, don’t look for him on Twitter or Facebook. The only reason that I have those things is because I have a team who does that for me. People are like, “I saw your tweet!” I’m like, “I didn’t. That was Rachel.”
So I’m assuming that’s… go to Amazon.
Greg: Exactly. Go to Amazon.
Mark: Read the book. And then maybe Greg will have training on it someday. But we’re going to be busy training with Kokoro yoga next year.
Greg: Exactly. We go some work ahead of us.
Mark: Awesome. All right everyone. Thanks for your time today. Stay focused. Do the work. Do the work every day. That’s the most important part. And stay true to your ethos and have fun.
Greg: God bless you, thank you all for being here.
Mark: Yeah, thanks for joining us. Hooyah.
Mark: Out here.